As a new parent desperate for some shut-eye, you might have found yourself curled up next to your newborn baby in your bed on occasion, drifting off to sleep. Or perhaps you have made the conscious decision to co-sleep with your baby right from the start.
Either way, you are certainly not alone.
While the Department of Health recommends the safest place for a new baby to sleep is in a cot in your room for the first six months of their life, many a sleep-deprived mother admits to sharing a bed with their baby – either at night or for daytime naps – at some point during the first few months of parenthood.
What are the risks of baby co-sleeping?
If you have decided to co-sleep with your newborn baby (either occasionally or every night), it’s common to feel at least a little concerned about whether you’re doing the right thing – after all, The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that, while sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is rare, it does happen more often when parents or carers bed share with their baby.
However, it’s important to note that the NICE guidance doesn’t distinguish between co-sleeping on sofas, chairs or bed-sharing… and there is a significant difference.
Bed-sharing: unravelling the evidence
One 2014 study, published in the journal Plos One, found that yes, incidences of SIDS were significantly higher among co-sleeping babies than the controls. However, when the statistics were broken down to specific co-sleeping environments, it was found that babies sleeping next to an adult on a sofa, or next to an adult who had drunk more than two units of alcohol, carried a very high risk. Co-sleeping next to a smoker also carried a greater risk.
But the risk associated with bed-sharing without any of these additional factors was not significant at all. The authors of the study concluded that public health strategy should therefore focus on educating parents about the specific hazardous co-sleeping environments they should avoid, namely: sofa-sleeping, smoking, drinking alcohol or taking drugs.
So, the good news for parents who want to co-sleep with their babies? ‘If co-sleeping is being undertaken safely, following the below recommendations, it is not currently considered to pose a significant SIDS risk,’ says Liz Halliday, Deputy Head of Midwifery at Privatemidwives.com, the leading provider of private midwifery services.